I could have just as easily titled this, “What a difference a year makes.” Yesterday was hot and dry, with temperatures reaching 108 officially. This sets a new record for the hottest August 10th on record as well as the hottest day ever recorded here in August. What is more, the humidity was at 9%, which is exceptionally low. It is somehow not surprising that the first nearby fire began yesterday. There are stunning differences from last year, though.
Last year, there were major fires burning in Montana in June. Our local fire last year rapidly grew from 250 acres to well over 4,000 acres in a matter of days. It ended up being over 40,000 acres. The hot and dry conditions contributed quite a bit to the growth, but that wasn’t the biggest factor, believe it or not.
The fire last year was combatted for nearly three weeks by a skeleton crew of 23 firefighters and no heavy equipment, helicopters, or tankers. In part, that was because personnel was being used elsewhere. More importantly, though, the forest service was still being held back by Obama-era regulations and funding. They literally couldn’t hire more firefighters to battle the blaze. A crew of 23 without equipment support simply isn’t enough to battle a fire with the conditions we had.
This year, the Secretary of the Interior, who is from Montana, and President Trump instituted some major changes in regard to wildfire. They also freed up disaster relief funds. As a result, the fire we now have and that I mentioned is being held to about 21 acres at this time. It is being manned by 75 firefighters, 3 helicopters, 2 bulldozers, and 2 water tanker aircraft are available if they are needed. Other resources are also available and more fire teams are just a phone call away.
This image shows some of the terrain firefighters are dealing with.
That doesn’t mean that this fire couldn’t grow rapidly. The terrain is rocky and difficult, even though it isn’t far from the main highway or the river. In fact, the location of the fire, called the Weeksville Fire, is only about a half-mile from one of our fishing spots. I’ve shared images of that fishing spot. We won’t be fishing there anytime soon, though.
Here is an image I’ve shared before. I’ve included an arrow to show where the fire is located.
This fire is also a rarity in that it was man-caused rather than lightning-caused. It wasn’t from arson or negligence, though. The fire began because of a trailer-house fire. Unfortunately, the trailer and one outbuilding were destroyed.
There is smoke in the air today, but it isn’t bad and nowhere near what it was last year at this time. It is amazing what wise forest management and regulations, coupled with disaster funding and resources, can do to cut the fire hazard down. Had the same measures been in place last year, it is likely that many thousands of acres of forest would have been saved. It would have saved a huge amount of money, too. The total cost in terms of 1.3 million acres of timber, the wildlife, the habitat, the water table, and lost income for businesses and individuals in the state probably won’t be known for decades, if it ever is.
Note: Except for the picture I’ve previously shared, all images here are from the US Forest Service.